Photoshop Tutorials

Photoshop CS4 Retouching: Curves, Levels & Exposure.

In reality, most images can be fixed with curves, levels, and exposure, and perhaps sharpening. 90% of post-production image editing will use these tools. This section is devoted to revisiting the most fundamental of photoshop tools in depth.

Virtually every image benefits by some adjustment. Whether you decide to begin each adjustment with curves because i said it’s most often used for beginnings, or whether you decide to go with levels first will be something that will develop as a matter of taste.

Adobe Photoshop CS4: An Introduction by Dr. Michael N. Roach is now for sale as a PDF

Price: $4.99

Sample Pages:

There are still a lot of people using Photoshop CS4 even though Photoshop CS5, and now Photoshop CS5.5, has been out for some time. We were contacted by a few students who are still in need of this information so, in the spirit of sharing, this series of downloadable lecture notes for CS4 has been made available.Originally, these notes were part of the material given out with the demonstrations and lectures during Dr. Roach’s Photoshop workshops. Much of the basics remain unchanged between CS3 and CS5, though the tools may have moved around.

Some of The Topics Covered Include:

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Photoshop Tutorials

Download: Dr. Roach’s Photoshop CS4 for Beginners

Update: Now that CS5 version has been released as an app, we are no longer offering this pdf for free


Adobe Photoshop CS4: An Introduction by Dr. Michael N. Roach is now for sale as a PDF

Price: $4.99

Sample Pages:

There are still a lot of people using Photoshop CS4 even though Photoshop CS5, and now Photoshop CS5.5, has been out for some time. We were contacted by a few students who are still in need of this information so, in the spirit of sharing, this series of downloadable lecture notes for CS4 has been made available.Originally, these notes were part of the material given out with the demonstrations and lectures during Dr. Roach’s Photoshop workshops. Much of the basics remain unchanged between CS3 and CS5, though the tools may have moved around.

Some of The Topics Covered Include:

Ready to buy?

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Photoshop Tutorials

Dr. Roach’s Guide to Photoshop CS4 For Beginners: Preferences

There are still a lot of people using Photoshop CS4 even though Photoshop CS5 has been out for some time. In the spirit of sharing, this series of downloadable lecture notes for CS4 is placed online for those who may need some help with the basics of the program. Much of the basics remain unchanged in CS5 and I believe that the original tutorial will prove useful for many of the steps of the revised Photoshop CS5, but there are minor differences sometimes.

Originally, these notes were part of the material given out with the demonstrations and lectures with my Photoshop workshops.

I am currently revising this tutorial for my workshops to reflect the changes between Photoshop CS4 and CS5, but on the urging of some of my former students I am making this material available.

Adobe Photoshop CS4: An Introduction by Dr. Michael N. Roach is now for sale as a PDF

Price: $4.99

Sample Pages:

There are still a lot of people using Photoshop CS4 even though Photoshop CS5, and now Photoshop CS5.5, has been out for some time. We were contacted by a few students who are still in need of this information so, in the spirit of sharing, this series of downloadable lecture notes for CS4 has been made available.Originally, these notes were part of the material given out with the demonstrations and lectures during Dr. Roach’s Photoshop workshops. Much of the basics remain unchanged between CS3 and CS5, though the tools may have moved around.

Some of The Topics Covered Include:

Ready to buy?

Buy Now

Reviews Software Tutorials Workflow

Review: ART TEXT v2.2.2 by Belight Software

Editor’s Note:  Wouldn’t you know? Just as we released this article, a newer 2.3 version with a vector editor has been released. Dr. Roach will review it at a later date.

Back in April, 2009 I last reviewed BeLight’s ART TEXT and found it a useful headline and logo designing tool, but time passes and the new 2.2.2 version appeared as a review copy (from BeLightsoft. Com)on my desk with a new, revamped look and a greater ease of usage.

Featured Gadgets Hardware Photography Tutorials

Lighting On A Budget – Pt. 2

My 6-light CFL fixture worked well in the studio, but I wanted more light and the option to add a light modifier.  I decided to move up to 3” PVC and install eight lamp sockets around the outside of the pipe.

We’re going to call this fixture a SPIDER, you’ll see why in just a moment.

Here is my original collection of parts.

A 3” clean-out plug serves as a hub for the sockets.  My original idea was to attach the clean out plug to a 3” bushing that would be attached to the front of the 2” tee fitting.  The power cord would run out the back of the tee and the light stand would attach to the base of the tee.

I measured and marked the clean-out plug and drilled it with a 5/16” bit.  I made a simple jig from scrap wood to hold the fitting in place.

Using a 2” lamp nipple and a pair of channel locks, I carefully cut the threads for the shorter nipples.  This is where the working characteristics of PVC came into play.  You can cut threads into PVC with a bolt and a little patience, instead of using a tap and die.  I chased the threads all the way through the side of the fitting.

Here is the clean-out plug with all of the lamp nipples fitted.  I chose a clean-out plug as opposed to a regular cap so that I could access the wires more easily.

Each socket was wired and the wires passed through the hole of the mounting bracket.  The design of the bracket and the lamp nipples allowed me to keep all of the wires hidden.

Above is the front of the SPIDER WITH the wiring in place.

Above is the back of the SPIDER with the wiring in place. The sockets were wired in pairs, then the pairs were wired together.  I used wire connectors instead of soldering so that a socket could easily be replaced if it failed.

LOOK; it works! 

At this point I realized that my original design was way too front-heavy.  I needed to move the center of gravity farther back.  So, I’m off to Home Depot yet again.

I found a 3”-3”-2” tee fitting that solved my problem of balance nicely.  I added a 3” to 2” reducer to the back of the tee fitting and a 2” to1.25” threaded reducer to that.  A 4” circle of plywood and a 1.25” male fitting is attached to the reducer and this holds the speedring to my Paul C Buff OCTOBOX™ firmly in place.  A 2” to .75” threaded reducer is mounted at the bottom of the tee for the light stand fitting.

Here’s the light inside the OCTOBOX™.  It throws a very even lighting pattern, even without the diffusion panel.  It’s well balanced and easy to handle in the studio.  I’m working on an improved version for my still photography.  Stay tuned…

Kirk Draut
Director of Design
Aarthun Performance Group, Ltd.


Featured Photography Photoshop Reviews Tutorials

Topaz Labs DeNoise: Another Winning Photoshop Plugin

UPDATE: Dr. Roach reviews the latest release of DeNoise here

A few weeks back I wrote about TopazLabs application TopazAdjust3, and I liked it so well that it obviously influenced me to take a look at its sister (brother?) application DeNoise.  Topaz Labs makes applications for both still and video imaging, and it is the digital still imaging area that have my interest because Photoshop from Adobe is the center of my workflow and I like things that plug-in to Photoshop.  I thought if noise control in its own plug-in could be any better than the noise suppression panel in TopazAdjust3, then it might be extremely useful.  So I decided to give it a try.  DeNoise is a bit more expensive than TopazAdjust3.  Where the latter is priced at US $49.95, DeNoise comes in at US $79.95.  All of TopazLabs software has a 30-day trial key which allows you to try it out thoroughly to see whether you like it or not.

So here is one I tried DeNoise with; it was shot with a 3.1 megapixel point-and-shoot camera in Morocco in the summer of 2000. Look at the color artifacts in the shadow under the palm leaves and in the shadow on the floor on the right.

Going to Filter > Topaz > DeNoise we get the panel below.

The default in the Main>Noise Suppression is 1.0 when it opens.  You can use the Reset button on the bottom right to force Noise Suppression to open at 0 if you choose.  We’ll take a look at all the adjustments possible before we make corrections.

The Advanced panel allows us to make adjustments in (1) Color Noise, (2) JPEG Fixer, (3) Smoothness, and (4) Add Grain.  It opened with a default of 0.05 in Color Noise.

The third panel, Presets, gives us the options of settings for (1) SRAW Normal, (2) JEPG High Quality, (3) Large Grain Noise, and (4) Supersmooth. Choosing and Applying one of these presets will make adjustments in the Main and Advanced panels.

Finally, the About panel will allow us to reach (1) Tech Support, (2) On-Line Resources, (3) Check for an update, and (4) enter our registration Key if we have not already done so.

Now, we’ll go back to the original image and the noise in the shadow and brick areas.

In the following image the Noise Suppression was set at 2.88.  Remember, the default was 1.0.

A slight amount of curves was applied to lighten the shadow area.

Now, here’s the detail close-up so you can see the original grain in all its gruesome glory.

Here’s the example with the Noise Suppression at 2.88.

Now here is a completely different means of removing the Color Noise.

Pretend you ignored all the steps under the Main  panel and went directly to the Advanced Panel and chose to make your corrections through the Color Noise and Smoothness adjustments. You will get results similar to the ones below, which are not identical to the answer you received working with the Main panel and Smoothness.  But this simply shows that there are more than one way to reach an acceptable answer to the noise problem.

On the left side we can see an area corrected only by Color Noise and Smoothness sliders.  The original, grainy, image is the right side of the image.

Here we have the image totally corrected by using the Advanced panel and the Color Noise and Smoothness sliders.

I think we have another winner here. I’m going to use Topaz BeNoise to save many of the photographs I took with the 3.1 Megapixel  point-and-shoot camera while we were traveling in Morocco.

Check out DeNoise at where it is priced at US $79.95 as a download.  A CD with the program can be ordered at extra charge, but saving the download with a copy of the key which is emailed to you after purchase can be done in only a few minutes.  After all, the DMG file is only 5.2 megabytes and is a quick download even on dial-up.  DeNoise is another good additon to your toolkit and workflow.

Featured Graphics Illustrator Software Tutorials

Illustrator CS4: Gradient Reflection & Glossy Surface

Making transparent gradients in Illustrator have become much easier with the new Gradient Annotator, a new tool in Adobe’s Illustrator CS4. It is now possible to define the opacity if individual color stops in a gradient, revealing underlying objects and colors, and creating multiple layered compositions. The process of creating these gradients have become exact- set the gradient angle, position and dimensions while previewing the effect directly on your artboard. Here, David Turton has created a tutorial taking advantage of these new features. – The Editor

Step 1. Using the circle shape tool from the tool bar make a circle holding the “shift” key which will help constrain proportions.

Step 2. Using the gradient tool and the default gradient blend drag from the center and get close to the edge, but don’t go past it, that is very important in this process.

Step 3. With the circle shape still selected use the gradient tool and just touch the area that you want the highlight to pinch toward. You can aim it in any direction you want but for this project you will need it to aim at the top. Once you get this correct you can remove the stroke from the shape if yours has one.

Step 4. With the shape selected go ahead and drag whatever two colors you want to use, one at a time, and replace the black and white colors already in place. We will be adding a third color to the gradient shortly.

Step 5. You can make nearly any shape you want but the more simple you keep it the cleaner the glossy look will appear. Try to keep the shape you make with the pen tool move away from the center like the shape above shows. Keep your color choice in the same color family and a bit darker, but not much darker than your darkest color in your shape for this exercise. Unless you’re very aware of color harmonies, just stick to this for now.

Step 6. Using the shape tool make an oval and place it near the top of the circle shape and color it white. This is where we will get into gradient transparency blends available in CS4 that does not require transparency masking.  Make sure your shape is centered with the background circle for this.

Step 7. Apply a gradient to the new oval shape and make both colors white. Using other colors, such as black, will have some odd coloring effects when blending to a Zero (0) opacity over another color. So for the highlight just keep it white. Go ahead and set one of the white swatches to an opacity of 0. As you can see in the screenshot provided for this I’ve circled the important areas. Be sure to have the blend direct face downward.

Step 8. At this stage you will need to add a third color to help with the reflection. You can also do this at Step 4 but you can choose for yourself. Using the Direct selection tool move the darker color over to the left a bit and add a lighter swatch of your choice by dragging a swatch color from the swatch palette and dropping it on the gradient bar. At this point you can experiment a bit with color if you choose. Just keep in mind that your reflection shape on the lower part of the ball will need to blend into what ever color you choose.

Step 9. I’ve adjusted my main gradient a bit so the lighter reflection would be closer to the edge of the ball. Also, I’ve applied my gradient to the reflective shape on the ball to achieve a better and cleaner color transition. This helps convey more depth. At this stage you can add an oval shape behind your shape and set up for the shadow. This will help with the appearance of 3D.  Try to make the center of the shadow touch the bottom circle. By lowering it you can also give the appearance that it’s floating.

Step 10. In CS4 there is a new tool for gradient call Gradient Annotator which will pop up when you use the gradient tool. If it doesn’t show up when using look for it under View> Show Gradient Annotator. The handle on this tool will function a few of ways. As you can see in the screenshot the anchor area on the right, also showing my direction of the gradient, will expand the gradient proportionally either in or out. The anchor on top will compress the gradient downward to for an oval gradient. Using this tool and saving it to a legacy file can sometimes have some unwanted effects such as stepped shape gradients or rasterizing. If you choose to save it down it’s best to close the file then reopen it and check on any visual or structural changes. Be sure to check the file in “outline” mode which can be found under the view menu.

Step 11. In this step you can see the finished result of the use of the Gradient Annotator.

Step 12. Adding the details. You can see that I’ve added two minor light reflections at the top and I’m in the process of making the finger holes. Using the Shape tool make a two circles, one offset a bit from the other. The angle will be your choice depending on where you want the holes to be placed.

Step 13. Using the Pathfinder palette. By selecting both circles and clicking on the “divide” button in the Pathfinder palette I was able to cut and remove the unnecessary part of the finger hole.

Step 14. After copying and pasting two more finger holes, I used the same gradient that is in the ball and converted in to a linear gradient then applied it to the shapes. Select the three holes and get ready to tweak the perspective using the Free Transform tool.

Step 15. Finished piece. After playing with the Free Transform tool a bit you should be able to get the correct angle you need to finish this piece out nicely. Keep in mind that this is a simple shape to do this with so I hope to add a few more complex versions of this example soon.

For more information about these new features, visit Adobe’s Illustrator page for an introductory video.

Featured Illustrator Panels & Gutters & Zip Ribbons Software Tutorials

Getting Started in Adobe Illustrator’s Livetrace

One gazillion years ago (I call it 1989) I used a rather nifty application called Adobe Streamline.  It had the ability to convert pixel-based bitmapped images into a vector graphic image.

But why would you need that?  It is due to the adage of while you can shrink a low-res image, you can’t enlarge it.  That’s because a bitmapped image is made up of pixels.  Blowing them up only creates larger pixel areas creating that all-too-familiar crappy Youtube video look.  With vector graphics an image is drawn through points and calculated lines.  I like to tell my classes that it is like the computer is drawing with math by playing connect-the-dots.  The downside to vector graphics is that if an image is too complex, this creates more and more areas which become clunky for the computer to redraw.  Simplistically, if it’s complicated image and you want photographic detail it is best to go with bitmap.  For images which are simpler in terms of line and color such as type, web graphics, or logos then vector-based artwork is usually the way to go.  With programs such as Illustrator, you could always export to bitmap.  With Adobe Streamline, you could take an image and convert it to a vector-graphic.  It was clunky, and the interface sometimes left much to be desired, but it did the job.  Unfortunately, it dropped off my personal radar around the mid-90s, although it’s last incarnation was 4.0 released back in 1997.  Around Adobe CS2’s release, a function in Illustrator called Livetrace turned up.  It turned out to be the same functionality of Streamline, but in a much more elegant execution.

Let’s say you want to make a logo that you just placed into Illustrator out of this stock photo for your studio "Baker Street Design."  You want the image simplified for use in black & white, grayscale, and color.  Right now in its bitmapped form it would be tedious to go in and redraw and recolor it only to have something that would be as equally tedious to re-size without it aliasing all over the place.  But, it’s got the basic elements and look you want.

Here I’ve brought the image in Illustrator CS4 (although the commands and look are basically the same in CS 2 & 3.)  It is a good strong contrast image to start with.  I select the image and hit "Livetrace" at the top: 


Below left is the original image, and below right is one with the default settings which is a "Simple Trace." 

It’s not quite the look I’m going for, so I go to the Livetrace options menu in the top left area of the menu bar at the top.   I select "Photo Low Fidelity" which knocks it into what looks like a posterized image in Photoshop: 


Right now there are still too many colors.  So I adjust the Threshold slider to reduce the amount of colors to taste. 


Here, after some experimentation, I knocked it down to 11 colors.

However, I don’t like the color of the lamp glass, and would like to play with it.  I select the image and then hit "LivePaint" at the top. 

As you can see, there are a lot of areas of color shapes, including the background.  All the individual color areas now have been converted into a vector shape which can be painted with the LivePaint Paint bucket tool in the toolbar menu.  I select a bright yellow for the color version of our logo and paint the glass areas.  Notice the red line which indicates the vector shape you are painting.

tip:  It’s worth your while to examine your image zoomed in to make sure you do not miss a tiny vectorized area.

So, it is looking pretty good, but ideally we would like just the lamp and not have this big off-white area around it getting in the way of our future logo plans. 

To do this, select the white arrow tool from the toolbar.  This allows you to select points and areas instead of the entire piece.  I draw around the spots I want to eliminate and hit delete, careful not to hit any areas that I want to keep.  To check your work, hit the black arrow selection tool and select your piece to find areas where you may have missed.  You may have to go back and forth several times. 


Voila!  After cleanup you have a finished vectorized graphic which you can further manipulate in Illustrator and/or recolor as needed with LivePaint.

Art Commentary The Not-So-Daily Edition Tutorials

Prometheus to the Cave Man and Now Igniting Ingenuity

At the beginning of the Disney movie Ratatouille, the main character, a small rat, says there is something interesting about humans:  “they don’t just survive; they discover; they create.”  The young child, cave woman, adult, professional, pirate, educator and artist in me held on to this observation by Remy, the rat, as the cornerstone that supports art and art making.  When asked to articulate a low-tech metal casting process to a high-tech computer crowd, I felt compelled to investigate a new angle. 

With 3D scanning, modeling, and rapid prototyping acting as the new hammer and saw in the metalworking and jewelry field, I often find myself questioning all the tools we use and how we can use them collectively.  The computer designers have access to so many new programs and novel technologies, but I would argue that they never completely forget their paper, pencil and individual human creativity that originally offered up these advances.  In order to rediscover the beginning of our inspired innovations, I have rummaged through the vaults of religion, anthropology, history, philosophy and frankly anything else that will prove my point.  “And what is your point?” you ask.  Keep reading.

    There has been much discussion about the changes in the arts due to computer usage.  In all respect to the importance of computers, I am simply giving a friendly reminder for those of you who have forgotten about the element that has helped spark most of modern technology…fire.  Why is the discussion of fire important in modern days?  It is important simply because it is a reminder of our human abilities, and gives us hope in our responsibility of creating and exploring future technologies. 

    Fire is one of the most celebrated and technologically advanced pillars of our human existence.  Religions, philosophies, wiener roasts, and birthday cakes all over the world hold fire in esteem difficult to match.  The earth diligently worked to maintain the correct mixture of atmospheric gases and offer combustible materials to allow fire to be possible.  The oceans prove that life can exist without fire, but fire would not exist without the living world.  Although we can harness the power of water and wind, we still must wait for a wave or gust.  But fire, the bringer of warmth, light, protection, purification, and the start of most technologies can be created, harnessed, and lost by man.  This utilization of a “wild” unpredictable but maintainable element divides humanity from the rest of creation. 

    “Fire was a god, or at least theophany; fire was myth; fire was science; fire was power.”1 Social relationships are affected by its entrancing ability to give light in the dark, provide warmth, allow conversation for questioning the world’s other wonders, and provide safe food and drink.  Without fire, we would be a scared and helpless being, digging holes for food and hiding at night from predators with no means to care for ourselves.  Just as we can’t imagine our world without computers, cell phones, and Wal-Mart (just kidding), man and fire have lived together from the beginning, and man carried fire into most applications of basic and advanced human needs. 

    To explore fire and its uses, I recently hosted a workshop for numerous college students that explored a low tech casting process called cuttlebone casting.  Cuttlebone is from the squid-like mollusk that is commonly referred to as a cuttlefish.  The bones are frequently used today at pet stores as a dietary calcium supplement and for beak sharpening for parakeets.2  In a moment of genius or insanity (they generally go together), someone discovered that this bone could withstand temperatures up to around 2000°F and was soft enough to carve into with a wooden stick, fingernail or dental tools. 

The dense outer shell makes it strong enough to hold metals ranging from pewter to gold.  After cutting the tips off the cuttlebone and rubbing two bone fragments together until they are perfectly flat, the maker carves or presses their design into the piece.  There are considerations to be made when designing to avoid areas that the metal would be forced to “back-flow” against gravity.  Generally, adding sprues or channels to connect certain areas of the design can solve these problems.

If an intense line quality is desired, which is why most people use this process, the artist can lightly stroke the design with a small paintbrush to reveal more of the calcium rich line.  Gates and sprues are cut into the piece to give the metal routes to flow and a large opening (button) is created at the top to make pouring the metal effortless.  The two parts are fastened together with binding wire and placed in a dish of pumice stones or sand to keep the form upright and catch any spilled metal.  The fire comes back into play but is easily started with a small propane torch ignited with a striker that forcibly slides flint across a textured metal wheel.  The artist melts the metal in a crucible or cast iron ladle in this case, and pours the molten metal into the cuttlebone mold.  We used pewter in this workshop because it melts at such a low temperature (500°F) and the process would require less supplies.  The form is then opened to reveal a metal positive of the mold that was originally carved.  You simply cut off the excess metal, file, sand and finish accordingly. 

This process might not be useful for all, but I do contend that every human should use fire to make metal molten at some point in their life.  I remember that my former foundry Professor would get a “crazy look” (as her assistants called it) when she would participate in the large pours.  I understand that “look” after years of working myself.  It is the gaze the prehistoric man directed toward the fire that was caused by lightning striking. 

This is the moment of realization of an element of such promise and danger, and a force that you must possess, release, and learn from.  If melting metal is on your “Bucket List”, contact your local art center, art school, or helpful website ( immediately to fulfill an act that everyone needs in their life.  When you first control and contain fire to melt metal into liquid form, pour into a mold, and cool to result in a hard and lasting metal form, you truly feel that same “crazy look” that the original prehistoric caveman felt when using fire.  Every time I work with fire, I have a link with the past and every important development we have created.  If you don’t feel this soul-stirring link to humanity, meaning of life experience that I’ve described, you will at least have a nice new keychain out of the process.


1Pyne, Stephen J., Fire:  A Brief History.  Seattle & London:  University of Washington Press, 2001.
2McCreight, Tim, Practical Casting:  A Studio Reference.  Maine:  Brynmorgen Press, 1994. 

Graphics Photography Software Tutorials


Free is good for about anything!  A well-made, extremely usable, and still free application is incredible!  Check out Xtralean’s website and navigate to IMAGEWELL.

First of all it’s available in fifteen different languages and…but what does it do, you ask? 

Digital Lifestyles Photography Tutorials Workflow

Green Volcano’s Photon

Green Volcano has announced Photon 1.0.2, a digital image viewing and sorting application for Mac OS X. Photon has an intuitive interface based upon a stacks analogy to allow the user to quickly scan through large sets of high-resolution images. Photon can load images either from a hard disk or from a memory card.

Digital Lifestyles Reviews Tutorials

Elgato Systems’ EyeTV Hybrid

I like to watch TV in bed at night. Sometimes I like to record what I am watching, but this involves getting out of bed, putting a tape in the recorder and getting back in bed. Usually I have to open a new tape by somehow ripping off the cellophane that has been adhered to the tape pack by static electricity (a force often stronger than I am), and by the time I have the tape in the recorder I’ve missed the first few minutes of what I wanted to record anyway.